It’s safe to say that we are well and truly into the Third Revolution. Whether you embrace the change or get hauled into it, it’s undeniable that things have come a long way from the agricultural and industrial days, and that the changing digital landscape is impacting all areas of society.
Some would say this revolution started in the 70s when we saw the introduction of the first commercialised computers for record-keeping.
The 80s saw the development of computers for gaming and digital cameras, whereas the 90s brought about one of the biggest changes; the worldwide web becoming available to the general public, changing the way everything was done.
Since the 90s, the pace of change has increased to the exponential rate of change that we see today.
The last few decades have seen the transfer of digital technology from a state of exclusivity, only being used by the military and research professions, to almost every aspect of modern living, both in business and everyday life.
The pace won’t slow any time soon. Buzz phrases such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Business Intelligence (BI), Machine Learning (ML) and Internet of Things (IoT) are banded about in connection with anything loosely connected with data, from processing to analytics, and that’s without mentioning blockchain!
Will the robots take over? My response is: it depends!
Technology will certainly reduce, if not replace, the need for low-skilled labour across a number of sectors, Amazon drone deliveries being a prime example!
Either way, this can be used as an opportunity to reduce costs or re-deploy precious resource to other areas, to ultimately make more informed decisions and drive your business forward in a way that didn’t previously exist.
The attitude towards embracing “digital” across the North West business community has a very wide spectrum, as does people’s perception of what digital means for them and their business.
The journey of transformation can start slowly, with small areas of automation, such as invoice processing or automatic bank feeds, and gradually working towards a modular solution approach so changes can be made when there is time, without causing interruption.
In other cases, it starts with a sense of urgency to understand company-wide what the opportunities are, assessing the impact, cost, and urgency before rolling out a firm-wide strategic plan and making wholescale changes to the fundamentals of how the business operates.
As with all things, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, although some considerations are:…
Embrace change:It will come, and it will fundamentally change how we all do business. HMRC has been a significant catalyst with the introduction of MTD for VAT, and this digital trend will continue; they envisage all taxes will soon be digital.
Have a clear digital strategy: Invest time in exploring the opportunities and challenges for your business. Have a plan of where you want to be, and how you are going to get there.
Accept that you may not be the best person for the job: The journey to digitalisation has many facets, so understand whether the skill sets exist in your business. If they don’t, outsource or recruit individuals who are better-suited to change management, implementation and learning new technology.
Small efficiency savings add up: Automation of a single manual process that saves 1 hour a week is the equivalent of creating an extra week’s capacity over the course of the year. Imagine the impact of saving two or three people over 5 hours a week - the savings soon add up.
Make your data work for you: Invaluable business data, whether it’s product, customer, supplier or operational information, is collected daily. Making basic changes to what and how information is captured gives better insight into business operations and helps make better informed and insightful decisions, in real-time.
Spend wisely and understand the pricing: Most SaaS (Software as a Service) products are subscription-based and dependent upon the number of users or transactions. Current cost-effective solutions may become uneconomical as you scale your business. Additionally, most software is priced on a per entity basis, so costs may be duplicated if there are multiple companies.
Be wary of the ‘new kid on the block’: Software development is changing and products are often taken to market earlier in the development stage, with customers being used as the test subjects. Bear this in mind and always try before you buy. It’s common practice for SaaS providers to offer free demos which helps you understand the limitations and determine whether the product suits your needs.
Employee expectations are changing: Younger generations are increasingly making up a larger proportion of the workforce, so employers will have to become more digitally-enabled to meet future expectations of employees. After all, they will be the first generations to have grown up with smartphones and voice commands as mainstream technology. In an ever-competitive market of attracting and retaining talent, how digitally-enabled you are will become an influencing factor.
Regardless of how you embrace ‘digital’, it is important to remember that all areas of commerce and business require judgement and decision-making. Using technology to make better-informed and thought-through decisions will ultimately help you succeed. Remember, though, that technology can’t make the instinctive judgements and decisions that make entrepreneurs what they are.
It all boils down to competition; if your closest rivals are doing it slicker, quicker and more cost-effectively, irrespective of industry, you will get left behind. The only constant is change, and the pace is accelerating, so the earlier you embark on the journey to digitalisation, the better.